AS NSPHET warns of a deteriorating Covid-19 situation, the thoughts of many are turning to Christmas.
Normally at this time of year people are looking forward to returning home to spend time with their loved ones, but there is a large question mark over whether this will be permitted this Christmas. Or even if we will be allowed to travel outside our own county.
Religious ceremonies generally form an integral part of family life at Christmas time but even these traditions are facing uncertainty.
In the parish of Tullamore, priests and lay workers at the Church of the Assumption are hoping the church will be allowed to re-open for the Christmas ceremonies.
Normally thousands of people attend Masses over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in Tullamore with returning visitors and families swelling the numbers. But this year will be very different and only a small quota of people will be allowed to attend each Mass.
If the church reopens the parish is planning to hold three extra Masses, two more on Christmas Eve and one more on Christmas Day.
''It all depends on Nephet; we are hoping 150 people will be allowed to attend each Mass,'' said Parish Coordinator Tom Whelan. ''On Christmas Eve we are hoping to have Mass at 4pm, 5.30pm, 7pm and 8.30pm and midnight at Durrow.
''Then on Christmas Day we plan to have Mass at 7am, 8.30am, 10am, 11.30am, 1pm and Durrow at 11.30am. On St Stephen's Day there will be three Masses at 10am, 5pm and 6.30pm.''
All Masses will require tickets which have to be printed but that cannot be done until NEPHET gives the green light.
Choirs are also affected, usually they would be busy rehearsing their Christmas carols but most haven't met since last March.
Only four members from a choir will be allowed to sing at each Mass. Currently people like PJ Smith, Martina Bracken and Paddy Foy are singing on their own and people are viewing the Masses on the parish webcam.
The Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin believes that many younger people will never return to the church after the pandemic. He said the church is at a crossroads and the post-pandemic church will look very different to the church we traditionally knew.
“Many whose attendance at church services before the pandemic was fragile will never return to public worship,” he said in a virtual homily.